Five things your heart rate is trying to tell you

This article was updated on October 30, 2020 to reflect recent research.

What could your heart rate be signaling?

  • If you’ve noticed your heart racing, or you’re feeling dizzy or sluggish, it might be good to monitor your heart rate.
  • Your heart rate is an indicator of your overall health.
  • Learn how to take your pulse.

[3 MIN READ]

Are you out of shape? Stressed? Dehydrated? In other words, how’s your health? The answer may be literally at your fingertips.

By taking your own pulse, you can estimate your heart rate. And that can give you some helpful information about your health.

To take your pulse, place your index and middle fingers together on one of your major arteries, either beside your windpipe or on the inside of your wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by six to get an estimate of how many times your heart beats per minute. Most people average between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), according to the American Heart Association. If you’re noticing your heart racing or you’re feeling dizzy of sluggish, it might be a good idea to monitor your heart rate.

What might your heart rate be saying? It could be:

1. You need to relax

Stress is one way to get your heart pumping at a high speed, but why is that? When your body is pumping adrenaline because, for example, you're nervous or in a high-stress situation, your heart rate rises. But if you're suffering from chronic or long-term stress, your heart rate can remain elevated, potentially leading to heart problems. The anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic may be making stress even worse – another reason to find ways to cope.

2. You should start exercising regularly

If you've spent your life avoiding the treadmill, you may find that your heart has to work a bit harder to pump blood on a regular basis, especially when you're doing any sort of cardio workout. If you have an elevated heart rate, you may need to start working exercise into your daily routine.

Start out with regular walking or jogging, five minutes here and there throughout your day, possibly mixed in with some jump training (plyometrics). The point is to raise your heart rate. People in great shape, especially those who run regularly, often find that their resting heart rate is on the low end of normal since their heart doesn't have to work as hard to perform day-to-day functions. Even with physical distancing, there are many great (and safe) ways to get your daily activity.

3. You're at risk for diabetes (or already have it)

A high heart rate may put you at higher risk of diabetes. If you’re sedentary, or inactive, you are at risk for diabetes and you also may have an elevated heart rate. Taking your pulse regularly can help you see if your heart rate is consistently high. If it is, talk to your health care provider. Staying attuned to your body and your health is another reason why regular screenings can’t wait – particularly for serious, chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood  pressure.

4. Your body isn't getting enough water

Many people don't know that your pulse can indicate whether or not you're dehydrated. If your body needs water, your heart may be struggling to pump blood through your body, causing you to feel sluggish. This results in a higher heart rate, as your heart isn't working as efficiently as it would be if your body was properly hydrated.

5. The caffeine has kicked in

If you just went through a couple cups of coffee or are pushing through the afternoon slump courtesy of energy drinks, you may have noticed that your heartbeat has kicked up a notch. If you find that you're regularly experiencing an intense or quickened heart rate, try laying off the caffeine for a while.

If you’re concerned about your heart rate or you notice your heart skipping a beat, talk to your primary care provider. Together, you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your elevated heart rate and rule out any other serious conditions.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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